When Army Staff Sgt. Bryan E. Hall returned to Iraq from leave early last month, his 2-year-old daughter, Addison, hugged a fabric doll with his image. She would squeeze the doll, which caused her father's recorded voice to tell her how much he loved and missed her.
"She is definitely his daddy's girl," his wife, Rachel, said with a laugh. "When daddy was around, she said, 'Forget you, Mom, I want my dad.' "
Her father was frequently away over the years. The military seemed a perfect fit for Hall, 32, who enjoyed hunting, fishing and the outdoors. He was a member of Ducks Unlimited, a waterfowl and wetlands conservation group. With his wife of five years, Hall was stationed in Alaska and Colorado, which suited him.
"He loved places where he could just be outside," said his mother, Betty Hall. "I think it all started when he was about 5 years old and he and his grandma would sit and read an entire set of encyclopedias about nature and the outdoors."
Hall, who was on his first deployment in Iraq, was among five soldiers killed April 10 when a suicide bomber detonated a truck loaded with explosives at the entrance to a police headquarters in Mosul, Iraq, north of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, Colo.
Hall was a high school junior when he signed up for an Army early entry program. He graduated from Elk Grove High School, southeast of Sacramento, and attended nearby Cosumnes River College for a year before enlisting.
Three years later, Hall, then 21, came home from Ft. Campbell, Ky., for a two-week leave, and took a family trip to Las Vegas to watch his sister, Kristi, play in a softball tournament. That's when he met Rachel, who played on his sister's team. "We didn't talk much when we were in Vegas. It was mostly flirting," Rachel Hall, 30, said recently.
Back in California, they dated for a week before he returned to his base. They wrote letters back and forth, and she visited him every few months. Eventually, she moved to Kentucky to be with him.
Five years ago, the couple were married. Rachel Hall said her husband seemed to delight in her pregnancy even more than she did. "I always knew Bryan would be an amazing father. He was like a big kid himself," she said. "When it came time for [Addison's] being born, you could barely see his eyes from smiling so much."
During his last leave, Hall celebrated Addison's second birthday and his fifth wedding anniversary. The couple also took a trip to Lake Tahoe.
On April 4, he bade farewell to his family and said he would see them in the fall, when his deployment was up. His wife said she last spoke to him a few days before he was killed, when he was still in Kuwait.
"It was short and sweet," she said. "We probably talked for only five minutes. . . . He was definitely not a complainer. He never said anything negative."
After he died, Hall's parents, his wife and daughter, his sister and mother-in-law flew to Dover, Del., to meet the plane carrying his remains. His mother said she felt better knowing that her son was back in the United States.
On the day of his funeral, Hall's casket was carried by a firetruck from Sacramento to Elk Grove as an escort that included law enforcement cruisers followed. Four American flags were hoisted on the firetruck in honor of the four soldiers who died with Hall. Firefighters and police officers stood atop overpasses to salute the soldier, and people lined the streets of Elk Grove to welcome him home.
Betty Hall said an Army commander told her that by ordering his soldiers to fire on the suicide bomber's truck, her son probably saved many lives by preventing the attacker from entering the police compound.
She said her granddaughter doesn't understand that her father has died. The toddler has many recollections and pictures of him, along with her "Daddy Doll," and often talks about him, Betty Hall said.
Rachel Hall has taken steps to make sure Addison never forgets her father and how much she meant to him. She also has asked people to write notes to Addison, known as "Addie," to tell her what they remember most about her father.
"One day, when she's old enough to understand," Betty Hall said, "she'll have some stories and memories to remember him by."
In addition to his wife, daughter, mother and sister, Bryan Hall is survived by his father, John. Hall was buried April 23 with military honors at Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Elk Grove.